In eighteen year old Tadios Hailu’s town there is no secondary school. When students like him reach grade eight they must travel 120 kilometers away from home, rent a house and pay for food as well as school supplies if they want to continue to learn.
“My dad passed away when I was only four years old, so my mom had to provide for my needs on her own. She wanted me to achieve academically and she pushed me to learn, but determination alone could not pay for my education,” Tadios said. Even though Tadios was one of the top students in his class, the long trip to Salamago, the nearest town with a school, to continue his secondary education, seemed to be a dream out of reach. “I was really frustrated,” Tadios lamented.
A miracle happened
Just when he was about to give up, Tadios learned about a housing opportunity that became a reality through the cooperation of the Japanese government and a partnering NGO.
Debub Omo Tesfa Mehaber, a local NGO provided a Hostel in Jinka for people like Tadios to live while they pursue their education.
“There was a huge dropout rate in the area,” said Dagne Gebru, Administrator of SORC and Chairman of Debub Omo Tesfa Mehaber; referring to areas like Salamago Wereda In South Omo Zone of the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Regional State, 120 kilometers to the south of Jinka Town, in southwestern Ethiopia where Tadios and 1.5 million other people live.
“We asked ourselves why this was happening and what we could do to solve the problem. When we learned it had a lot to do with economics we worked to get funding. We were linked by the Japanese embassy through Professor Shigeta, a Japanese professor who came to the area 25 years ago from Kyoto and became a resident, they reviewed our proposal and provided us with the support we needed,” he exclaimed.
Built on 1,800sqm plot, it has 20 dormitories with five by five rooms accommodating 12 students each. The Japanese funded dormitory is currently home to 94 students who are unable to rent a home on their own. This concrete hostel has a well made hallway, cooking quarter and sanitary area.
It was sponsored in two phases in 2004 and 2007 with grants totaling 54,033 and 88,507 dollars respectively.
And here we are today helping the marginalized sector of our community,” said Dagne.
A river runs through it
The Aari people grow ginger, coffee, and cardamom in Wub Hamer Kebele of Debub Ari Wereda. Produce is carried to the markets using pack animals. When torrential rain ravages the area, and they always came, residents were unable to make it to the market.
This is because they live near the Sala River, the longest in the Aari Wereda of SNNPS.
When local elders asked for help Japan and Ethiopia teamed up to create a single bridge over the tributary of the Omo River.
The 106 thousand dollar Sala River Bridge connected 22 Kebeles and 200 thousand people.
“The almighty has observed our suffering and through the cooperation of the Ethiopian and Japanese government He has solved our problem,” said a local elder right after the official opening ceremony of the bridge which saw thousands of people turn out.
“Since 1997 the SOZ has been our partner for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GHSP). To date, ten projects have been implemented with a total of 815 thousand dollars spent in this zone. Three of them are located in the Debub Ari Wereda including the Metser Primary School expansion project and food security project which constructed a Farmers Training Center and a seedling Nursery in Metser village,” said Hiroyuki Kishino, Ambassador of Japan to Ethiopia in his inauguration speech on November 19, 2011.
Arba Minch Town of Gamo Gofa Zone has seen the benefits of partnering with Japan. Now the town has a program aimed at Improving Access to Alternative Dispute Resolution. It costs them 35,374 dollars. They also now have Japan House in the South Omo Research Center (SORC) which cost over 95 thousand dollars. The center first was constructed by the Germans but it got a facelift from the Japanese. Japan financed the construction of a modern library, hall, store and five guest houses. Though the center is under the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, it serves as a training center for Arba Minch University.
SORC is fascinating. The 16 ethnic groups and their way of life are so different from Addis. Despite its rural location it has some characters from far away as well. Japanese professor Masayoshi Shigita came to the area 25 years ago from Kyoto and decided to stay. When he first put his feet on Ethiopian soil, he was an agronomist. However, the love of the green city caused him to become a cultural anthropologist.
The SORC museum is free for the community on Saturdays. It is open for students of the area during the week.
Even though these projects may seem to have little to do with the technology Japan is famous for, they are in fact investing in areas that often require technical expertise. This year alone Japan has invested 81 million dollars.
Out of the total Japan’s Official Development Assistance for 2011, 51 million dollars goes to 299 GHSP while the balance is for technical cooperation. From 2006 to 2010 the Japanese have been financing hundreds of similar projects in Ethiopia and providing technical assistance at a cost of more than 349.6 million dollars.
A change in Jinka
The compound looks down on ‘the Green Lake’ surrounded by lush vegetation and unique landscape. The sunset over the mountain chain is striking. Equally beautiful is the story of how local people with cooperation of Japan and Ethiopia have worked to give young people the tools to dream big.
Ahmedin Nuru is a 17 year old school boy currently in grade 11. At Nippon Jinka Library, funded by the Japanese government, you can find him reading a computer science book entitled Computer Basics.
“I can access any academic book here in this library. This makes me read more in my bid to join the university next year. Since this area has a diverse ethnic composition, I want to explore more about all the cultures I have become exposed to during my stay at the university; if it is God’s will. I aspire to study sociology,” he said.
The library is designed to represent the English alphabet ‘J’. That has been done intentionally to represent the first letter of Jinka and Japan. The word Nippon in Japanese language means Japan.
Now that Tadios is in grade 9 he is able to look back on how a simple partnership changed his life.
“I am able to focus on my education. I have now a place to live, therefore my duty is to study very hard in a bid to help myself and my country like the Japanese people who provided the funds for the construction of the hostel that made my dream come true. Now I am attending grade nine here in Jinka,” said Tadios in a visible sense of determination.